‘Urgent’ political transition in Syria needed: Obama, European leaders


U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday discussed the urgent need for a political transition in Syria after more than a year of deadly unrest that has drawn repeated international condemnation of the Syrian regime.

The leaders “discussed recent developments in Syria and their shared perspectives on the importance of ending the violence of the government against its own people and the urgency of achieving a political transition,” a White House statement said after Obama, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti held a video conference.

World leaders have on several occasions called for the end to violence in Syria that has claimed an estimated 13,000 lives since anti-government protests began in March 2011.

The Russian standpoint on Syria however remains somewhat unchanged.

Russia’s position will not shift under pressure from foreign states, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said on Thursday.

“Russia’s position is well-known. It is balanced and consistent,” Interfax quoted spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying. “So it is hardly appropriate to talk about this position changing under someone’s pressure.”

Russia insisted Wednesday that new action against its ally Syria would be premature, amid Western calls for increased pressure on the regime as the death toll rises.

The United States, France, Britain and Germany all came out of a U.N. Security Council meeting this week the worsening crisis urging measures up to sanctions by the 15-nation body.

U.N. under-secretary general Herve Ladsous gave the Security Council a “somber” account of both the latest killings in the eastern town of Assukar − 13 people killed execution-style − and of last week’s massacre near the central town of Houla in which more than 100 people died.

All governments are increasingly concerned as the Syria death toll piles up and U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan left Damascus this week with no apparent concessions from President Bashar al-Assad.

The U.N. observer mission chief in Syria, Major General Robert Mood, said he was “deeply disturbed” by the latest killings in Assukar, calling it an “appalling and inexcusable act.”

Many Western governments ordered out senior Syrian diplomats on Tuesday in an apparently coordinated protest at the Houla killings but Russia slammed the move as “counter-productive.”

Syrian forces launched a new assault on Wednesday on the site of last week’s massacre, forcing villagers to flee heavy shelling in fear of more carnage, a watchdog and the opposition said.

Machinegun fire was followed in the afternoon by shelling that targeted the village of Taldu, near Houla, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“People are fleeing Taldu to other parts of Houla,” the Britain-based Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. “They are very afraid.”

The Syrian opposition called for U.N. observers to rush to the area to protect residents.

“People are calling in distress following the regime’s brutal attack on their community, especially after the army’s withdrawal of roadblocks, which usually signals the beginning of attacks,” said the Syrian National Council, the main opposition coalition.